Sunday, November 09, 2008

Career Opportunities

The pharmaceutical manufacturing plant I work in is regularly the victim of Dilbert-esque management wheezes. But in my eight years here the last 12 months have been some of the most ridiculous.

It's like this. The company had decided to adapt the concept of 'Lean' manufacturing, but then decided to go one step further and introduce 'Agile'. The theory is that our plant 'should deliver value to our customers' and 'always be ready for change'. What this means in practice is that the accountants want to keep inventories as low as possible, without actually risking having a stock outage. In other words we have to pace production to just meet market requirements and no more. That might even sound reasonable - if you make bread or bottles or something 24/7/52. However, in a drug manufacturing facility where you already make many different products, and where you could make a year's supply of something in 3-weeks, it's a bit of a nightmare.

For seven years, and in my previous job, I had been tuned to the notion that we make as much as we can, as quickly as we can, as cheaply as we can while not compromising on quality or safety. Now I have to get used to the notion of deliberately slowing processes down to keep inventories low. Worse, we have been running processes for barely a couple of weeks before stopping them altogether, going through big expensive clean-ups, making something else for a couple of weeks then doing another big expensive clean-up and going back to making the first thing again.

It's ridiculous - it wastes resources, causes confusion and, most seriously, has been causing accidents. A guy almost lost his sight in one eye last week when he took a splash of methanol under pressure straight in the eye. There's so much constant change, and so many people making changes, that the place is getting out of control. But of course you can't dare question the new paradigm. Big business is almost worse than organised religion for it's dogma (and its treatment of heretics).

Anyway on my way to Bahrain I twigged what must surely have happened. I saw this (and loads more like it) in Amsterdam Shithol Airport:


... and it hit me. Some gobshite executive in the company saw some book like this in some airport somewhere and had his little revelation (the spanner). And, of course, none of the spivs had the balls to point out that we make small quantities of complex organic compounds - not fucking Corollas.
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